The day had finally arrived for the Apprentice of the Year convention in Sydney and after a lot of preparations, I started my faithful station wagon for the long drive.Since my popular boss had great expectations of me, I made sure that the exhibition stand, I had created myself, was safely stored in the back of the car, in proper crush-proof containers, together with all the bits and pieces that link the modular panels together, the clip-on spotlights and my faithful, commercial-quality slide projector. The slides had been checked carefully and I had this reassuring feeling that nothing could go wrong, if only my speech would go right.
Extension leads, I had been told, would be provided by our Sydney branch and the assurance was given that I need not worry about them.
There was also in my car an enormous plastic tube, with my seven foot fold-up screen resting inside. Well-cushioned with foam and closed at both ends with screw-lids that, too, had foam cushioning for extra protection. This PVC tubing was actually a gutter piping which I obtained from a builders’ supply store and, after much work, I managed to fit slightly larger tube ends, complete with thread and screw-on lids to firmly close them. All this necessitated a lot of sawing of thick plastic and gluing with an unbelievably penetrating plastic solvent.
I had used my sales promotion equipment many times before and my only apprehension was my speech, which I had memorized word for word in my attempt to avoid bloopers.
There would be waiting for me in Sydney my friend Mel Addams, from a technical college in Melbourne, who took it upon himself to record the whole event in every detail with his newly acquired video camera.
He kept telling me now for days about this project of his and I had this added assurance that the whole event would be preserved for eternity.
Driving into the vast Sydney Convention Centre, where all the company employees and our honoured guests from all over Australia were staying, I felt the yearning for a good stretch out and a long and relaxing shower. The trip had been approximately ten hours and whilst it is really uplifting to drive through picturesque little towns and impressive scenery, a motel is always welcome as a second home!
Turning into the driveway of the motel and convention centre, I pepped-up a bit noticing my friend Mel Addams standing next to the reception hall, his camera primed and filming my arrival.
‘Hello Peter!’ He shouted enthusiastically. ’You’ve made it. How was your trip?’
‘Great drive, Mel. But somehow, it was a bit too long!’ I returned his smile.
‘Everybody else is in the bar,’ he pointed with his chin in the direction of a double door, whilst filming my car and the equipment inside.
‘That’s great Mel. I just want to unload my things and then change clothes and relax. By the way, where is the lecture room?’
Mel, good mate that he is, helped me carry my equipment to a large hall, where a sufficient number of folding chairs had been leant against a wall.
‘Thank you for your help, Mel, I think that’s it. Just one more thing…..where is the power point?’ I was looking around with rising alarm. My sixth sense told me that something was not right.
‘It must be here, surely.’ Mel started to march along the wall, staring attentively at the space above the skirting boards.
‘Nothing, Peter!’ he simply stated, with his usual calm.
There were, however, alarm bells ringing in my head. Whenever I give a lecture, or a demonstration of some sort, there is always a chance of making a fool of myself due to what I term ‘human error’! Totally unforeseen things can happen and leave me red-faced, stammering and with sweat pearling on my forehead. Therefore, it is very important to forestall all this in the first place.
Where was the company’s state manager for NSW? After all, he was the host and had promised me on the phone that he would see to it that nothing went wrong.
‘’Leave everything to me!’ I could still hear his reassuring words.
Luckily, a sales representative from New South Wales, Tom Minter, tried to slink past the door and I managed to stop him and explain my matter with urgency in my voice.
A short time later, Tony Selby, the state manager himself appeared, trying to look as distinguished as our managing director but failing in the voice department.
‘Ah, Peter! Glad you could make it.’ Assuming immediate command of the situation, he added: ‘Well, this is the room! I see that you have already assembled your display stand, your projector and put up your screen – great-looking equipment you have! Did you want anything from me?’
I explained to him my concern.
‘Oh the power point?’ His voice sounded like dealing with a small detail. ‘It is in another room, at the end of this corridor……..’ In his mind the problem was as good as fixed, why, I would only need to plug in there – it’s that simple,’ I could read his thoughts.
‘Tony, I always carry an extension cord with me, but it is not that long! The distance would be over twenty metres.’
‘No worries, Peter, I’ll get my son to bring you an extra long extension cord from home. I’ll give him a phone call now.’ And with a casual gesture he had copied from Declan, he fished out of his pocket his trusted mobile telephone. Apparently, there was an extremely long extension lead at home and, for him, like I said, the problem was as good as solved.
My friend Mel would not leave my side, filming everything for his epic movie. The way I looked for a power point, the way Tony phoned home for the extension lead, the smallest detail was going to be preserved!
‘I want to record everything, Peter, and edit later for a long documentary!’ His enthusiasm was infectious, however, there will be a lot of editing of the video recordings, I thought.
Whilst waiting for the extra long extension lead to be brought, I ambled into the big function room where the actual presentation of the award will be held and had to stop and gasp at the entrance. The sheer number of visitors was astonishing and what’s more, all the important people, captains of the flooring industry, were there. I also noted some well-respected politicians and even the Minister for Youth and Training with his own entourage of followers. Plus, news reporters and press observers from the mainstream press. They all mingled happily, mostly with a glass of drink in one hand, the other one being used for gesticulating, I observed. Obviously, the whole gathering has been going on for quite a while. The room itself, with its chandeliers and gilded plaster pillars, red carpet and the long bar at the back, all brightly lit and showing off their gleaming rows of bottles and dispensers, helped the atmosphere along. Also, the happy looking and eager staff kept floating through this crowd of people with both hands full with trays of delicious finger food which made everybody feel well cared for and at home. The whole hall had an ambience of cosy comfort and well-being.
Mel was standing beside me and, yes again, he was recording this situation. ‘I’ve got everything on tape,’ he kept assuring me with enthusiasm, obviously proud of his camera and feeling kinship with the other members of the press.
‘I am gonna show this film in the technical colleges around Australia as motivation for all our apprentices’, he assured me.
‘Good idea, Mel’, Have you thought of a title for this film?
‘Oh, I shall think of one. A catchy, inspiring opening…..yes, I can see it already…. a great opening would be very important.’
I had to extricate myself from his daydreaming as somebody tugged me on my sleeve. It was a young lad with dishevelled dark hair and pimply face, obviously Tony’s son.
‘The extension lead has arrived. We have already plugged it in down the corridor in the photocopy room.’ Great news, I thought gratefully.
It has always been my method to connect everything and switch it on for a try-out! Only when I had found that everything worked perfectly, would I switch everything off and await, with peace of mind, the time when I had to give my product presentation.
Sipping my cup of strong coffee in a little cafeteria to fortify myself, I heard a distant bell ringing and Tony, the state manager and host, appeared and motioned me that it was now my turn to perform.
Entering the lecture room, I was amazed at the number of people waiting and they all seemed so eager to hear my report on the latest in flooring technology. It is always with some apprehension that I start to speak but once the second and third slide went up on the screen I was alright because the picture actually tells me what to say. I simply pour out my knowledge relevant to the shown slide, however, I’ve learned that every now and then a little humour loosens things up a bit and prevents my presentation become tedious.
The grateful applause at the end of this report rewarded me for my forty-five minutes of sweating it out! When that sweet noise finally subsided, Declan was suddenly at my side, whispering:
‘Well done, Peter!‘ I don’t know how you do it! When I speak for ten minutes I run out of things to say.’ I was grateful for his approval which I considered my real award.
All this was filmed by an eager Mel.
After saying a few words of thanks, Declan invited our guests to the awarding of the apprentices which was being held in the largest room, on a stage.
As this was the end of my contribution to this event, I started to pack-up my equipment and with the help of my colleague, Ken Butterworth, and Tony, the state manager, everything was carried to my station wagon and stored carefully and securely.
Walking into the great function room, I noticed an atmosphere of excitement. Like I mentioned before, It was filled with important people from our industry, retailers, architects, government departments, politicians, teachers from the technical colleges and, of course, fellow representatives like myself. And everybody was mingling, talking, eating and - you guessed it - drinking.
And through the masses pushed Mel his faithful camera, filming everything. Despite his enthusiasm Mel began to irritate me the way he would poke his camera into all my activities.
In an adjoining room were the floor laying apprentices. They had been tested with small, practical flooring installations and product-knowledge via written tests. And now, everybody was waiting for the announcement of the Apprentice of the Year!
Sweating profusely and breathing heavily, they sat, drinking their Coca Cola. Now the door opened and, yes, Mel entered the room filming them as they munched their sandwiches and downed their drinks.
In the convention hall, Declan, again, opened the event with cheerful words, praising the event, his company (and thereby indirectly himself) and emphasised the importance of this event for the whole flooring industry and for the participating apprentices.
The Minister for Industry and Commerce was introduced and he, too, stressed the training of apprentices as a noble task more companies should participate in and so on.
He was filmed at close angle by the eager Mel and would be a major part in his feature film. Nodding towards me between his filming, he obviously saw himself as a movie director at the start of his illustrious career.
Declan, as our managing director and MC, with his beautiful baritone voice and classic theatrical accent, read the names of the apprentices off a list he held elegantly in his hand.
Mel did a close-up of this and had to be waved back by Declan. The first name was called for an Encouragement Award and it was very quiet in the room. All eyes were fixed to the left side of the stage where the first apprentice was expected to appear. Necks were strained, breaths were bated, and Mel tried his best to steady his camera in his exited hands.
And then, something unbelievable happened. Out of seemingly nowhere a sound was heard: ‘Peter, I’ve run out of film!’
The sound rolled through the hall, an outcry of incredulity and helplessness! All eyes were fixed on Mel who was staring at me with wide open eyes, his jaw dropped and his hands, still holding the camera, were hanging down in helplessness.
With his film career in tatters, Mel slunk defeated from the stage, whilst the events took their turn to their successful conclusion.
On my long trip back to Melbourne I had time to reflect on a past hectic year and wondered what will be in store for me in the coming year. Of one thing I could be sure, there will still be a road to travel!